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Company dynamics

Tencent's $5 million lead investment in AI startup ObEN, further expanding into social AI

In addition to conducting basic technology research, Tencent has stated that it aims to promote artificial intelligence in various application scenarios through business driven approaches.

Combining Tencent's main business, it is not difficult to guess that in the future, the company will focus on four major application directions: gaming, social media, content, and platform tools.

Especially in the social field, last year Zuckerberg announced his intention to launch a VR version of Facebook and showcased the virtual avatar tool Oculus Avatars; In July of this year, Facebook announced that Facebook AR Studio would collaborate with Meitu to provide them with three AR camera special effects. Now, Tencent also needs to take action.

On the evening of July 18th, artificial intelligence startup ObEN announced a strategic investment of $5 million. This round of financing is led by Tencent, with CMC Chairman Li Ruigang and Fengshang Capital joining in. According to data from investment and financing information platform Crunchbase, ObEN has completed four rounds of financing with a total amount of 13.7 million US dollars. Previous investors also included S Rushan Capital, SoftBank Korea Venture Capital, and HTC VIVE X.

According to public information, ObEN was founded in 2014 and can create user artificial intelligence virtual images by building personalized virtual sounds, images, and personalities, helping users store, manage, and operate their virtual images in the emerging digital world. That is to say, ObEN can use artificial intelligence tools to create virtual images based on users' photos and sounds, allowing users to have different AR and VR social experiences.

Previously, ObEN mainly helped game players create virtual avatars, but now the company is shifting its focus to helping celebrities create virtual avatars. Through this virtual image, celebrities can interact with fans in real-time. One day in the future, perhaps fans can seek advice from celebrities and receive corresponding feedback. In addition, this virtual image not only looks very similar to a celebrity, but also speaks in the same way. Overall, such a virtual image is better than a chatbot.

It is reported that ObEN has also integrated voice, computational vision, and natural language processing technologies for the first time, and developed the virtual sound, three-dimensional image, and personalized technology required for a full stack virtual star. Now ObEN is building a brand new business platform. Here, celebrities and fans can interact directly on platforms such as mobile devices, augmented reality, virtual reality, smart devices, and the Internet of Things through personalized artificial intelligence. ObEN's personalized artificial intelligence products are expected to be released later this year.

The latest round of financing will be used to accelerate ObEN's product development and help promote the widespread application of its celebrity artificial intelligence copyright platform on various digital platforms. For this collaboration, Yao Leiwen, Executive Director of Tencent Investment, said that ObEN will bring a new entertainment method and content driven by celebrity artificial intelligence.

Earlier, ObEN had expressed its intention to become an "artificial intelligence social platform for everyone.". In this regard, the company has made multiple layouts.

At the HTC Vive ecosystem conference in March this year, ObEN announced a collaboration with HTC Vive to develop a WeChat mini program that allows users to play VR together and perform VR karaoke. In this program, VR users can send invitations to friends; Invited friends can upload selfies and audio, and ultimately use the constructed image to stroll along the beach or visit attractions with the inviter.

At the end of April, ObEN launched a WeChat chat service short video that integrated VR social experience, of course, users need to wear HTC Vive headsets. In the short film, users need to first take a selfie, upload it to WeChat to create a virtual image, and then bring HTC Vive to receive messages from WeChat friends, and can reply directly through voice. In the future, WeChat with VR and AR functions may be able to attract a large number of Asian users.

At the end of June, ObEN announced the establishment of a joint venture company, AI Stars, with South Korean SM Entertainment. It is reported that ObEN will use artificial intelligence technology to create AI virtual images for well-known artists under SM Entertainment, and Phantom Star Limited is the agency that manages these "AI stars".

Can Tencent's lead investment in ObEN further promote the artificial intelligence of the company's social business. Nowadays, major companies are not only busy building artificial intelligence laboratories, but companies like Facebook have also established more concrete Facebook AR laboratories. Additionally, it is said that Apple will soon launch the ARKit platform. In the future, will Tencent establish a separate AR laboratory to further expand its social AI business?